There are a million open mics, and a million (well I don’t know numbers, it’s not important) stand-up showcases around the country. You can see stand-up almost every night in every major, and some minor, cities. But how many of these shows feature comics performing in their underwear, or performing to a camera in a separate room from the audience, or will you hear a comedian tell an erotic tale involving lovers Lee Harvey Oswald and Eva Braun? Answer: not many at all!
Comedy is ever evolving and people’s perception of what stand-up is and can be evolves with it. Comedians are constantly experimenting and taking their comedy to places previously unseen, and some are taking the same approach to showcases. To break up the monotony, many unique concept shows have sprung up around the country and have flourished. More than just a mic and a stage, these shows add a whole other level of fun and spontaneity that really makes live comedy a special thing.
We picked out nine of our favorite shows that have found success and could possibly be coming to a city or comedy festival near you. Check it out.
50 First Jokes (NYC)
First stop: Brooklyn, New York. Comics usually will wait to debut a brand new joke at an open mic, or some place where the stakes are low. For this annual showcase (always taking place the first week in January), 50 comedians share one stage, each telling the very first new joke they’ve written for the new year. Hosted by the great John F. O’Donnell,’50 First Jokes’ has become the first big kickoff live comedy event of the year in multiple stand up scenes throughout the country and keeps growing every year.
” ’50 First Jokes’ started in NYC in 2007 in the back of a bar in the Lower East Side as an excuse for a bunch of comedians to get together, get drunk and mess around telling their first new joke of the year,” says O’Donnell. “Cut to eight years later, 50FJ has grown to become a highly-anticipated, sold-out, annual event in New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, New Orleans and, for the very first time in 2015, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
While O’Donnell is the sole-remaining original producer, he has very talented co-producers in each scene that help run each 50FJ spinoff.
“Sachi Ezura is the New York City co-producer, as well as a performer on the show. Jeremy Burke, of Loud Village, is the LA co-producer. Chris Trew, of The New Movement Theatre, co-produces both the Austin and New Orleans shows. And comedian Shelly Smith of Ann Arbor, Michigan is co-producing and hosting that leg. Again this year, the NYC show will be at The Bell House in Brooklyn, where it has been sold out for the past three years. 2015 will mark the 9th annual NYC 50FJ. The 5th annual LA 50FJ. The 4th annual Austin 50FJ. The 3rd annual NOLA 50FJ. And the 1st annual Ann Arbor 50FJ. The entire ’50 First Jokes’ crew is completely thrilled to be able to provide such a fun show for both comedians and audience alike!!!”
For me personally, seeing a 50FJ show is a comedy bucket list item. And maybe, in the near future, one will just come to my hometown. The show’s certainly seems to be on a great trajectory.
Set List (LA)
Jumping over to the west coast, we must start with a staple of the LA comedy scene: Set List. Set List: Stand-up Without a Net, is a totally improvised stand-up show. Comedians leave their notebooks backstage and have to base their jokes on a never-before-seen “set list” full of bizarre and ridiculous topics put up on a screen on stage for all to see. Created by Troy Conrad, the show bounces around a couple of venues in LA. While the UCB Theater, iO West and others have hosted the show, Set List calls the Nerdmelt Theatre it’s home.
While Set List has traveled to many comedy festivals, it’s at Nerdmelt where the show is recorded as a TV show, airing in the UK and Australia. Produced by Conrad, Paul Provenza, and Barbara Rome, the 60 episode series also airs on the Nerdist Channel on Youtube with new episodes every Friday. Because everyone should get the chance to hear about Kyle Kinane’s lucrative breast milk business.
Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction (LA)
If you were wondering where you could hear the previously mentioned erotic tale of Lee Harvey Oswald and Eva Braun’s love affair, it’s here. This show is pretty self-explanitory. At this monthly showcase, comedians take turns telling tales of… erotic fan fiction. Producer and host Bryan Cook started the show in Seattle in 2012 before calling The Virgil in Los Angeles the show’s home. Since then, the show has been recorded and turned into a podcast on the Nerdist Network, earning the distinction of being named one of the Top 20 Comedy Podcasts by Rolling Stone.
“Each show features two rounds of comics, writing and performing Erotic Fan Fiction pieces, based upon their whims or audience suggestions. It’s really stupid, ” says Cook.
Such pieces covered include Adventure Time, Beetlejuice, Wheel of Fortune, and NPR’s This American Life. Yea, it’s really stupid in the best way possible.
Cook takes CEFF on tour year round to a circuit of 20 plus cities, including recent stops in Cleveland, Atlanta, and Knoxville, TN. CEFF has been featured at almost a long list of major comedy festival including Just For Laughs Chicago, Portland’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival, San Francisco Sketchfest and San Fran’s Outside Lands, Riot LA, Denver’s High Plains Comedy Festival, Seattle’s Bumbershoot, Bloomington’s Limestone Comedy Fest, Austin Sketch Fest, Omaha’s Crom Comedy Fest, and New Orlean’s Hell Yes Fest.
The podcast culled from the live show is available for free every Saturday on iTunes and Nerdist.com. No matter who the performer is, no matter the topic/suggestion, every show is thoroughly entertaining. It’s bulletproof fun. Also, hey, maybe NSFW. Did I need to say that?
Picture This! (LA)
This monthly LA-based show brings out the best of the West Coast’s comedians and visual artists. The show is produced by Brandie Posey and Sam Varela, “two girls who want to push the boundaries of what a comedy show can be.” At this unique showcase, stand-ups perform while they (and their bits) are drawn live by some of the best animators, cartoonists, and other artists with a sense of humor. The comedians don’t know what the animators are drawing and the animators don’t know how the comedians will react.
“Picture This! started in Hollywood, CA in 2012 and since then has be featured in festivals and clubs in SF, NYC, Portland, Toronto, New Zealand and Australia,” says Posey and Varela. “After Picture This!’s Portland debut last year at the 2013 Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Picture This! has franchised and started a monthly Portland edition of the show, hosted by local Portland comedian Andie Main at the Curious Comedy Theatre, with hopefully more Picture This! franchises to come to a city new you!”
Bringing jokes to life, Picture This! should be franchised in every scene.
7 Minutes in Purgatory (Chicago)
Let’s head to the Midwest. 7 Minutes in Purgatory at first sounds like, well, a stand-up’s hell. It’s stand-up like you’ve never done before: deaf and blind. Produced and hosted by the dapper, soon-to-be LA based comedian Ian Abramson, the comics perform in a separate room from the audience to a camera while wearing noise-cancelling headphones. You have no idea whether you are killing or bombing. Yea, just slightly terrifying.
“7 Minutes in Purgatory was born out of a thought experiment.” says Abramson. “I was thinking about the relationship between a stand-up and the audience, and how the audience responds to a comedian, but the comedian responds to an audience as well. I wanted to know what would happen if the comedian had nothing to respond to, and built the show around that. I produce the show with Matt Byrne, who runs The Steamroller in Chicago, and produces The Comedy Expo as well. We’ve taken the show to Atlanta, St. Louis, Lawrence, Omaha, and Denver. We did it most recently in Chicago at a movie theater called The Music Box. Over the next year it’ll be at a number of festivals and such as well.”
Some of those upcoming festivals include the Green Gravel Fest in Iowa this February. While it seems a little scary at first, 7 Minutes in Purgatory is one of the coolest and creative additions to the comedy world. Having only seen the many sets Abramson puts online, I’m jealous of all who’ve experienced this wonderfully unique and crazy show live. It’s genius.
Comedian Jake Head’s set has amassed over 22,000 views on Youtube from the show’s first road show in Atlanta. Check out what everyone’s been talking about. C’mon, all the cool kids are doing it.
Arguments and Grievances (Chicago)
Like CEFF, Arguments and Grievances can be enjoyed by all as a podcast. Half comedy show, half rhetorical fight to the death, Arguments & Grievances is live comedy show featuring comedians debating outlandish topics with audiences deciding the victor. The podcast is produced by Chicago comedians Goodrich Gevaart, Kevin Brody, Kevin White, and Zach Peterson.”
“Started in Chicago in 2013, the Arguments & Grievances podcast has appeared at numerous comedy festivals (Crom, Chicago Comedy Exposition, Memphis Comedy Festival, Beast Village), run a successful set of Midwest and east coast tours, and featured at The Nerdmelt theater in Los Angeles,” says Kevin Brody.
Live shows run monthly in both Chicago and Denver and the bi-weekly podcast features content from both. Some of my personal favorite debates: To Be vs Not To Be, Pens vs Pencils, The Book vs The Movie, Marriage vs Freedom, Star Trek vs Star Wars, and Stephanie Hasz vs Andy Fleming. No, that’s not a debate in which Chicago comedian Andy Fleming argues why he’s better than fellow comic Stephanie Hasz, it’s Fleming arguing why Hasz is better and vice versa. The show is simply hilarious. It’s one of my favorite podcasts, and a great way to look stupid in your car.
Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober (Austin)
Again, this one is pretty self-explanitory. Moving down south to the state of Texas, we have a show where the performers are incouraged (well, demanded) to over-indulge in their select vice. Produced and hosted by Austin’s Rob Gagnon, each Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober show books six performers. Two comics get stoned, two comics get drunk, two comics stay sober. One by one, using the order listed in the title, comics do 6-7 minute sets followed by an incredibly fun all comic riff session at the end to help the audience crown a champion. Of course, the show provides a safe ride home to anyone who needs it.
“About two and a half years ago I created STONED vs DRUNK vs SOBER at The New Movement in Austin which remains the shows home base,” says Gagnon. “Since then I’ve brought it to LA, San Marcos, and most recently I put it up at Hell Yes Fest in New Orleans.”
“As the show became more popular I reached out to fellow Austin comic Lisa Friedrich to come on the show as cohost/drunk wrangler/tour manager. Lisa runs ATX Comedy Hour, a show I cohost with her as well, and I had the privilege of touring with her last Spring so I know she’s a road warrior that can help book and run our 2015 tour.”
Something tells me Denver would be a good spot. Ya know, cause — nevermind. I’m, sorry.
Underwear Comedy Party (Atlanta)
Atlanta, Georgia. The Peach State is home to a most interesting show. If performing stand-up deaf and blind sounds nerve-racking, imagine doing it in your underwear. Usually performers are told to imagine the audience in their underwear to calm their nerves, but the Underwear Comedy Party flips the script. Produced and hosted by Atlanta-based comedian Joe Pettis, this monthly showcase has comedians perform nearly naked at Atlanta’s Village Theatre. The show became a hit and it wasn’t long before Pettis starting taking the show on the road.
“I started Underwear Comedy Party after I heard about completely nude shows in Boston. I wanted to do something similar here in Atlanta, but no one would let me, says Pettis. “So we settled on an underwear show. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but it was so much fun that we said, “Heck, let’s keep doing this.” ”
“Eventually I started getting hit up by bookers and comics in other towns who were interested in doing it. So far this year, I’ve taken the show to over 30 cities throughout the Southeast and Midwest. My goal for 2015 is to take the show out west.”
Underwear Comedy Party has also been invited as part of the Scruffy City Comedy Festival, the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival, and was recently invited to the Charleston Comedy Festival for 2015.
“I should add, part of the reason I keep doing it is because I enjoy traveling to other towns and seeing my comic friends in their underwear,” says Pettis.
And we’ll finish our stop with a hot newcomer to the scene, Atlanta’s Dungeon. Since the show’s debut in October, it has taken off tremendously. Instantly cementing itself as one of Atlanta’s most popular shows, Dungeon was created by comedian Remi Treuer and combines two of his favorite things: comedy and role-playing games. In Dungeon, a comedian takes on the role of a hero and struggles against the challenges set out by the Game Master (Treuer). The adventure is not pre-planned, everything happens organically in real-time. The audience gets involved in the fortunes of the hero, sighing when they fail, cheering when they succeed, and laughing when it gets strange.
In between each role-playing game, Treuer invites a few comedians to perform short stand-up sets. “It’s a great showcase for everyone’s talents,” says Remi Treuer. Treuer says the idea for Dungeon was conceived when he and fellow comedian Michael Humphrey were randomly paired together at a local comedy show. On the fly, they played a simple game where Treuer narrated the situation and Humphrey reacted to it.
“The crowd reaction was very positive,” says Treuer.” “[I] then went to Conner Taylor, who runs The Hangar, an Atlanta performance space, with the idea of turning that initial game into a full-fledged show.”
The first edition of Dungeon was welcomed by a packed house, with new editions each month being the comedy event of the week. After establishing itself at the Hangar, Treuer has taken the show to Athens, GA and Chattanooga, TN and has several more road dates in the works for the new year.
Dungeon seems poised to explode in 2015 and sounds like the perfect addition to any comedy festival. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to see their favorite comedian as an angry wizard or barbarian?